How Brexit is driving up the cost of UK gardening

Britain’s gardeners can expect higher prices and a reduced choice of plants in nurseries as a result of more post-Brexit bureaucracy imposed by the UK on imports from the EU, the industry has warned. Plant costs have already risen by 8-13 percent in 2021 due to a range of factors, including Brexit. Still, the Horticultural Trades Association said prices would rise again after the UK government introduced charges for biosecurity checks.

The HTA estimates that the UK saw 3m more people taking up gardening during the pandemic lockdowns, many making use of small areas of outside space, such as balconies, window ledges, and porches. However, James Barnes, the chair of the HTA, said the industry felt like “guinea pigs” for new Brexit import controls that were delayed again last week but were imposed on “high-priority” plant products from January 1 this year. The industry estimates that the controls, which will also see physical inspections at border control posts now starting next July, will cost it £30m-£50m a year.

The warnings came as Britain’s premier gardening event, the Chelsea Flower Show was due to open on Tuesday in London, delayed until the Autumn for the first time as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The industry, which imports about £400m-worth of plants a year, has called on the government to negotiate a comprehensive plant health agreement with Brussels to reduce the levels of checks on imported plants, the vast majority of which come from the EU.

It is also grappling with how to manage border-post inspections, which could require temperature-sensitive plants to be unloaded in winter and cause delays that risk damaging stock before it reaches nurseries and retailers. The HTA said the government’s decision last week to delay import checks on goods coming from the EU for a further six months had only served to underwrite the horticulture industry’s own request for an EU-UK plant health agreement to ease the bureaucratic burdens of trading with the EU.

“Ornamental horticulture is the only sector to have been working within such restrictive conditions, and there has been little recognition from the government of the immense burden this has placed upon horticultural businesses,” a spokesman added Michiel van Veen, supply chain director at Royal Lemkes, a Dutch company that supplies large retailers including Aldi, Ikea, and B&Q, said that products costing £4 in-store were now attracting vast amounts of paperwork. Prices had risen, he said, declining to provide details, citing commercial sensitivities. “We have hired extra people who just sit and sign and stamp papers all day — and it’s the same paper for the same plants we sent yesterday or last week. We’re praying to reduce physical paperwork,” he added.

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